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5 Women Who Overcame Eating Disorders—and Found Weight Lifting

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    Stronger, Inside and Out

    When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder, there's no single or straight path. But for these women, weight lifting has become a way to redefine their relationship with their bodies and celebrate what they can do (like lift heavy or feel empowered by a challenging workout), rather than how they look.

    "It's all about making sure your mindset is in the right place," says Amanda Schlitzer, the strength and conditioning coach for The Victory Program at McCallum Place who runs an outpatient practice called Discovering Balance: Fitness Coaching and Support. "Sometimes people will switch over to exercising after an eating disorder and be extremely rigid with their fitness routine. It's important to embrace mental flexibility and take rest days, add in variety, and be flexible if things come up. You need to be in the right mindset to trust your intentions, listen to your body, and modify if needed."

    The first part of recovering from an eating disorder is to make sure you're medically stable. As you add exercise (starting with lighter intensity, and slowly increasing), make sure you're feeling energized rather than depleted and fueling your body with enough food, says Schlitzer. She says to keep the focus on how you feel, not how you look: "Make realistic goals. Meet yourself where you are at. Concentrate on what your body can do right now and what you enjoy, instead of what you feel like you have to do."

    "It's important to be mindful that everyone's recovery journey looks differently," says Schlitzer. "Each individual has his or her own passions, goals, and strengths. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors in this article are a snapshot of their personal recovery course and do not represent the only path to recovery. When participating in fitness activities, one must be medically appropriate, hydrate and fuel themselves adequately, listen and respond to individual body cues, and demonstrate a balanced and flexible mindset to engage in their fitness endeavors."

    If you're suffering from an eating disorder, the first step is getting support—whether it's at a facility like McCallum Place or in another way that works for you. But whether you’re an #EDWarrior or not, these weight-lifting women will seriously inspire you to love your body.

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    This small-town girl from Scotland has recovered from an unhealthy relationship with food and is now pursuing a bodybuilding competition. Follow her on Instagram and YouTube to watch her progress, get training ideas, and read her powerful, reflective words—like the caption on this pic:

    "If you were to speak to your body what would you say? Dear body I am so sorry for mistreating you. It started out great, I was on the right track but I took it too far. I starved you and punished you, spoke badly to you, preventing you from experiencing anything beautiful. I blamed you for everything that was going wrong in my life and never thanked you. I do not judge you for losing confidence in me. But even after all that You persevered and gave me the inner strength to continue living. You gave me hope. I promise from now on to honour and respect you.”

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    Nika is a 22-year-old vegan who went from a vicious circle of bingeing and purging to starving herself and performing hours of cardio, to focusing on strength training—competing in both a bodybuilding competition and three Strongman competitions. Her Instagram feed is filled with some of her crazy training feats (like pulling a car), what it's like to be a vegan weight lifter, and incredibly positive words like the ones on this transformation pic: "I am no longer controlled by numbers, life circumstances, or small minded people. I love myself. I love my body. I love my life.”

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    Alexsandria, aka @princess_sinderella, recovered from an eating disorder, then became a junior powerlifter, a bodybuilding bikini athlete, and a self-proclaimed #EDWarrior. She shares videos of herself pulling some impressive weight, feminist mantras, and simple-yet-inspiring words like these: "Remember how far you've come, not how far you have to go.”

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    Julie, a 27-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she made the decision four years ago to stop letting her eating disorder control her life: "On days when things are tough I remember that, despite the smile, I used to be in a really dark place of fear and isolation. I remember that I am worth it. I am worth my health. I am worth my happiness. I am worth glasses of sangria and scoops of ice cream. I'm worth strong bones and freedom. Whether you're coming from a place of over eating or under eating, I promise you that you are worth happiness and a happy mind, body, and soul."

    Now—after countless 5Ks, a half marathon, a Tough Mudder, a 25K, and three bodybuilding competitions—she posts photos of her journey in the gym and inspires others to "Stay hungry, stay humble.”

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    Antonia Eriksson, a Sweden-based personal trainer and nutritionist, has a huge following of more than 38K on Instagram. She posts about recovering from anorexia and her food-filled weight lifting journey. This photo shows her three years ago (not long before she was hospitalized for being underweight), but is more about hope and recovery than looking back on hard times:

    "The truth is that recovery has to be a choice—you have to make your mind up and then you have to fight like hell to get your life back. You have to suffer through anxiety attacks, fight your demons and challenge your mind again and again. You have to give up the control and trust your surroundings to help you—because in that state you can't make healthy and rational decisions. You have to eat. You have to gain weight and you have to learn to work with your body—not against it.... You will come back ten times stronger and there is honestly nothing like it. Like I always say: I wouldn't wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy, but I wouldn't delete it from my history either."


Lauren Mazzo

Lauren Mazzo is a digital assistant editor for Shape and Fitness. She's an Ithaca College alumna, a Rochester, NY, native and an NYC transplant.  More →

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